update on reading, misreading, and readers’ responsibilities

The following two posts have been updated, with editorial additions:

This is with the intention of clarification. [Ed. The rest of this post has been edited with updates in the time since it was first posted. Just FYI.] The clear communication of a post’s content is my responsibility, as writer. That includes complications, vagueness, ambiguity, and multiple senses. Because we exist in a complicated world, as complicated beings, in complicated ways. So sometimes there will be complications in writing; and to some readers, such complication will look, in their non-simplicity, like they’re unclear.

This is a problem.

Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about the state of the complicated world. And nothing I can do about “simpler” readers and other people’s bad reading. Readers are responsible for their own readings. What they get, what they don’t get, what they add that isn’t there. What those things say about them, sometimes revealing truths better left hidden. Not reading well: properly, thoroughly, completely. Not reading a whole piece, in its context. Let alone wilfully misinterpreting something, taking an excerpt out of its context, with malicious intent; an example of which follows in the screenshots below.

All of these things are bad readings, and they are all the readers’ errors, accidents, and omissions.

Here is a case that includes some examples: this is why I made the edits on these other posts, and why I put this post up. My thanks to a kind MakeupAlleyer for alerting me to this foolishness. Screenshots follow, but with no links and online pseudonyms blacked out.

You see, some people have been known to use their real names for their online handle/avatar/persona/e and include too much real-world identifying information on their online profiles. I know, I know: it would have been stupid 25 years ago, and is beyond stupid now. But I’m bearing in mind that MUA is not always the smartest place online, and some of its boards are less smart—and more actively anti-smart and pro-stupid—than others. In the discussion below, there’s already one person hoist by their own petard / egg in own face. So I reckoned that it’s probably a good policy, henceforth, to do this blacking-out no-link business with screenshots, just in case. Better safe than sorry. It also, I hope, draws more attention to what is being said rather than (unimportant, irrelevant) who’s saying it. So as to focus on ideas. The important stuff.

But that’s the best I can do for other people. Individuals will recognize their own words; people in the discussions, or reading on these discussion boards, will be able to locate URLs. People: use your brains and protect yourselves online. If you’re capable of going and writing online, you’re competent to take responsibility for yourself. Maybe also think: think before posting and consider editing afterwards: these are your words, you have control over them—that’s a great and wonderful thing—but your responsibility too.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 8.36.20 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 8.36.42 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 8.37.02 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 8.37.23 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 8.37.38 AM

The next section is what’s called “commentary”: writing about one’s reading of someone else’s writing. A comment is a reaction. It should involve some thought. Analysis.

It might or might not be the kind of “response” that’s intended as a continuation into a conversation. It might be “bashing”: alas, all too often online, it is; and alas, all too often online these days, anything that is not sycophantic praise with loud applause tends to be labeled “bashing.”

The commentary here is what’s called “criticism,” the product of reading and reasoning accompanied by “good balanced judgement”; the whole thing also known as “fair comment.” It is unfortunate that the meanings of “criticism” and “judgement” have been tainted by ignorant misuse and popular misconception, so that “criticise” and “judge” (especially online) are immediately construed, all too often, as negative and personal. They’re not. They’re balanced, and impersonal: not about the person who said the thing but about what was said .

Now we’re clear on what’s happening here (just in case), on with the commentary.

As ever, we observe the stupidity of people who can’t read blaming someone else, taking no responsibility at all for their own failings.


We see here misreading. Reading that’s also sketchy because it’s not of a whole thing: that is, each of two posts: service with a smile (2011-07-31) and the recent return of the lady of shalott. It’s also bad reading because it does not take account of (and seems blissfully unaware of) the whole context: that is, this blog as a whole, and its 540 posts; the other context, unknown to an outside reader, would be MUA correspondence with about 270 other MUAers over the last six years. Some of the misreading might additionally be deliberate wilful misunderstanding, with intent to hurt (to hurt me, that is: knowing that I’d probably be smart enough to read that discussion on MUA). Some may well be genuinely out of feeling sympathy for someone who feels hurt.

Guys: I feel hurt too. I was hurt. Actively, by someone else, deliberately, abusively. Used.

So what’s the end result? Two people have been hurt. Does one hurt count more than the other? Are they equally hurt? Were the MUA Gods to apply The Wisdom Of Solomon, they would delete both online accounts. Or hope that both parties either sever all connections between them (yes, back to THAT METAPHOR: that’s for you MUAer bad readers out there). Or hope that they could both deal with this in something approximating to a civil, responsible, adult manner.

OK. I take responsibility for my own sins. For what I have done and for what I have left undone.

But cheap revenge disguised as do-gooding, getting an angry crowd going and baying for blood, and childish sobbing to Daddy? That is not behaving in a civil, responsible, adult manner. That discussion above is adding insult to injury. Or maybe injury to insult, when lynch-mobs get involved. But anyway: adding to it. So in the hurting people stakes, that makes it 2-1 to me as the more injured party.

What should I do?

1. I can’t and won’t do what Shalott has done.

2. But I will not turn the other cheek.

3. There is only one proper, decent, virtuous, ladylike course of action in such circumstances. To follow my own advice, “block” the individual concerned, and walk away. I am not contributing to that thread, and will not mention the matter on MUA. Nor will I mention the names (or rather, online pseudonyms) of those concerned, there or here or anywhere else.

A message to all: sometimes this is the best course of action. It might not reduce pain already there, but it avoids creating more:

time to stop

There are actually two things to do. This is the second; my apologies for having the advantage of living in VANCOUVER IS AWESOME:

vancouver is awesome: bowen island


Any excuse for a nice walk outside. If it happens to be on the way from work to home, or vice versa, all the better. I am lucky. This is, I think, what people mean when they say they are “blessed.” Happy walking, happy tree-hugging, breathing nice clean air. Simple things in the complexity and complications of The World.

I’m not the only person out there in the ether who feels this way. I’m in pretty good company: people like Charlie Brooker.

I note with interest that some of the argumentative stratagems, goading tactics (knowing that I’ll be reading that discussion thread), and vocabulary used (in the ad hominem / personal attacks) echo earlier bashing of me on the BeautyBash board and attacks on others, on that board and on MUA’s Café board. Iiiiiiiiiinteresting.

Well, probably actually not that interesting, really. Just fairly standard online foolishness:

  • selective reading, including innocent and well-intentioned
  • deliberate misunderstanding so as to misdirect, make trouble, and stir up others to do so on your behalf, orchestrating drama
  • standard kindergarten / teenage name-calling
  • a common misuse of “private,” “privacy,” “invade privacy” through misunderstanding what these words mean and what these things are.

Bullies call others bullies, trolls call others trolls, lunatics call others lunatics, the violent draw attention to what they see as violent imagery. These deflection tactics reveal a lot about the utterer.

I’m not sure what to make of those who seem to be unaware that there is a distinction between, on the one hand, reality, reportage, description, the literal, and facts; and on the other hand, metaphor, analogy, the figurative, all things unreal, and writing that is non-factual. Kinds of writing like fiction, commentary, criticism, and satire. Bad readers are also often blissfully unaware that a piece of writing can combine more than one of these elements, sometimes simultaneously: most writing, and all good writing, has complications. Even bad journalism, like in much of the Daily Fail, does this. That’s how is does what it does and gets away with it: assuming that many readers will assume that any given piece of writing is all fact or all fiction; all serious or all joke. Even the most hard-nosed scientific writing is complicated: rhetorical questions; comment (often scathing) on others’ experiments and data; and the use of fantasy and imagination in drawing conclusions, proposing directions for future research, and making hypotheses.

My work involves reading—all sorts and media, online and offline—and some of that work involves dealing with people who don’t see these distinctions. Some of them are simply not good readers. Most of them are trainable. Some of them are quite clever, and are good readers in all other ways: incisive, intelligent, intuitive; able to read with sensitivity, attention, concentration, and stamina; reading for general sense and for concurrent multiple strands and senses, but also reading in depth and in detail, and reading between the lines. So I don’t think, based on experience, that the conceptual real/unreal problem is simply tied to cognitive smarts.

The bullying business, though, is particularly outrageous: I think that’s the part that’s meant to make me really angry, being diametrically opposed to the truth. Red rag to the bull, provocation, inciting my self-destruction.

Sorry, folks, you will not have that pleasure. Trolls, get back down under your bridges. It’s never too early in the year to start preparing for hibernation.

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Bullies calling other people bullies, trolls accusing others of trolling, all that sort of thing: one can see that these are tactics, what their objective is, and insofar as one can, one can try to understand them and thus avoid, maybe stop them, maybe even counter them. But it’s a sad fact (as witness that discussion above) that they also work. They work on the intended recipient. Can I be a sardonic “beneficiary”? “Prey” or “victim” sound too strong, but this is the same kind of thing as goes on with the kind of online bullying that leads to real life tragedy. This sort of online unpleasantness works. On the very stupid. On the unstable. On the hypersensitive, the fragile, those going through transitional transformative times in life. On people who are, simply, people. Even on the non-stupid and relatively stable who are comfortable with their identity (ginger geek, etc.), it’s not exactly nice and it causes a certain discomfort. If not actual physical pain. For me? Could be worse. I’ve survived worse.

That’s bad, but it’s not too bad. What is, and what makes these kinds of statements seriously bad and dangerous, is that they can look like statements of truth and actual criticism (see elsewhere on this blog about reason and reasoning, facts, truths, and opinions). That muddies the waters, as the weaker-willed and less able can be led into error on what constitutes actual points, arguments, criticism, and debate. They can then be manipulated, like we see in the example above, into fights and drama. Some of these people, as we’ve seen above, show an apparent inability to distinguish the literal from the figurative.

This can be connected to two things. First, a confusion of the real and the unreal, with online interactions being as real as ones in real life (and actually, the psychological damage often is). Second, saying things online one would not say in real life; being more vicious and violent, making wilder allegations and imputations about others’ characters and characteristics, making nastier threats, and picking fights more readily. Classic online bullies will flip from one to the other of these two things when it suits them, the better to manipulate others.

But but but:

Readers being responsible for their own reading also means: all credit to readers for correcting my own errors. (When these are actually errors, and not bullies posturing in a nasty game, as seen above.) For being better readers than I am a writer and a reader/editor of my own writing.

Any comments, feel free to add them here below; they may of course be anonymous or pseudonymous, as you see fit!

I may make further editorial changes to these posts, as needed (and, like the previous edits, they’ll be clearly indicated); readers’ help here would be invaluable. I shall take “no response” to be a sign of “no response needed”: whether than means all is clear, or no-one cares because it’s a silly trivial bit of pointlessness. Either of which would be a good and happy thing.

One comment

  1. gingerama

    message sent to MUA mods:

    Dear Mods,

    With reference to this:

    With all possible due respect and much undue respect, this is a misreading of the situation by the original poster. Many of the additional comments are by other people who are not qualified to comment, seeing as how they are reading out of context, and not reading fully and properly.

    It is not the OP’s fault, and I would ask you not to do anything to or about her. I don’t think she’s a troll: the way in which she used me was as much my fault as hers. This is not a complaint about her! She can’t help the way she is.

    Most of the fault here is my own. My own stupidity for being manipulated. For not blocking someone at the right time. For getting annoyed.

    But I am being misrepresented in that thread.

    Best wishes,


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